He was meat cutter – A World War II Marine on Iwo Jima – an Actor performing Shakespeare – a director in a cowboy hat … John Hume was many things. Mostly he was a man who inspired, encouraged, and educated a multitude of children and adults for 30 years as the primary director and manager of the theatre programs in Downey, California. To this day, there are parents and grandparents who as children were encouraged to succeed and excel in their lives through the theatrical training received from John Hume.
Some continued in the theatrical field, most became architects, doctors, engineers, or some other non-theatre related field. But we all had a drive to succeed and to be good human beings that was installed in us by a man… John Griffith Hume.
John Griffith Hume was born in Oakland on December 15, 1921, and grew he up in Sacramento. His first job was working for his father at Hume & Sons, a meat store located in Sacramento . John Hume was not destined to become a meat cutter. He left Sacramento to attend San Jose State University. There he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater and a minor in Philosophy.
While at San Jose State, Mr. Hume joined the Marines under a program that allowed him to finish school before starting his enlistment. After graduation he reported to Paris Island for boot camp Following Officer Training Camp at Quantico, he reported for duty at Camp Pendleton. In August of 1944, they shipped out to Hawaii for special training and then joined the 4th Division for the assault of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. Captain John Hume left the service in 1946. He attended Stanford University on the GI Bill, receiving a Masters of Arts degree.
John was hired as Manager of the Sacramento Civic Repertory Theatre enterprises that included a full season of plays at the Eaglet Theater plus the Arm Chair Cruise Series, a series of children’s plays and drama and stagecraft classes and the famous Sacramento Music Circus.
Hume made his way into the Los Angeles/Hollywood area during the infancy of the television industry. He appeared on live television programs such as Playhouse 90” and commercials in the early 1950‘s, John Hume showed up in Downey, California, to audition for the play “Harvey”. “ Harvey” was followed by an opportunity to direct a play for children presented at Downey High School and Rio Hondo Elementary School. Impressed by his production of “Heidi”, John was asked if he would formally organize a children’s theater program. “Hansel & Gretel” became the maiden offering of what was to become the Downey Children’s Theater.
In 1955, when over 200 children turned out to audition for “Hansel & Gretel”, John Hume was prompted to initiate a policy of double casting his shows. At the height of the Downey Children’s Theater over 450 kids a year went through the program; not only performing on stage, but also working behind the scenes.
By the 1963-64 season … 75,000 participated in 71 performances of 7 plays. But these performances were not limited to Downey audiences. The success of the Downey Children’s Theater prompted the Los Angeles Junior Programs to sponsor tours of John’s shows.
In 1960, the Downey Adult Theatre was established and joined the roster of children’s shows presented at Rio Hondo. The two programs combined their efforts to present a full scale musical resulting in a production of “The Wizard of Oz” in 1963. This tradition continued, and each year after a full season of plays for children and adults, there was a grand musical presented in the spring.
The success of the Theater programs was unquestionable. For nearly ten years, John Hume lobbied to try to get a real theater built as a permanent home of these programs. Finally in 1970, after many different concepts and several possible locations, the City built the Downey Theatre on the corner of Firestone and Brookshire. Winning national recognition for a design that had been carefully researched by Mr. Hume.
He expanded the programs to include not only the Downey Children’s Theater and the Downey Adult Theater, but also
- The Downey Teen Theater,
- Downey Experimental Theater,
- Downey Reader’s Theater,
- Downey Marionette Theater
- The Downey Civic Light Opera Association
After the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the City withdrew its support of all the theater programs. The Board of Directors of the Downey Children’s Theater, Inc. reluctantly was forced to suspend operations of everything except the financially successful Downey Civic Light Opera. After he retired in 1979 as the oldest City of Downey employee, in terms of length of service, John Hume continued to produce one more season on behalf of the Board of Directors. He returned in 1980 to direct his final production in Downey, “The Music Man”.
Mr. Hume filled his years of retirement with writing, attending local theater productions and fishing at his favorite vacation spot in Idaho. John had been introduced to the wilds of Idaho by his father, in turn he shared his favorite lakes and mountains with his children and his grandchildren. John continued to be active through out his 70’s. However, Mr. Hume’s last challenge was a battle with cancer. Mr. Hume passed away on September 12, 2003.
Those who knew him, were trained by him, encouraged by him, and challenged by him have become better and more successful in life because of him. So it is for the generosity of his time, his effort for over 30 years, and his dedication to the Children that the former children have started the John Hume Performing Arts Foundation in his memory. It is their desire to continue his philosophies and teachings; to help open doors for others through the “Arts”, like those doors Mr. Hume opened for them.
Courtesy of http://www.johnhume.org (currently offline)
My Mother, Cecile Williams worked for Mr. Hume and my sister and I performed and participated in the Downey Children’s Theatre. It was an honor to be part of this time in history.
Rev Yvonne Marie Williams Van Dyke, RN